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Chapter 7

“Thank you again for showing me around. I will be in touch,” I said to the studio director.

Getting into my car, I dropped my head onto the steering wheel. I had been driving all around the city since I came back, looking for a new dance studio.

I started dancing three years ago when my therapist and my aunt told me to find an outlet for my anger and tears, assuring me that as soon as I found the right channelI would find peace, and everything would start to get better.At first I didn’t believe them, but in the end I saw how right they were. It took me a really long time to find that something, but I finally did . . .

I had tried many different things during my years in Ireland, like drama, writing and singing. I even tried sports. But nothing gave me what I needed. In fact most of these activities only made the anger in me even worse. Then one day my aunt invited me along to one of her ‘mixers’ as she called it, where the entertainment for the evening was ballroom dancing.

I instantly fell in love.

There was something about how two people moved together on the dance floor that touched me very deeply. They spoke to each other and the audience without needing words, using only their bodies. They told stories about love, disasters, tragedies, hope – basically any emotion you can think of –portrayed through dance. The connection between the two dancers was so strong it felt like there was an invisible thread between them that kept pulling them to each other, not allowing themto break apart.

I signed up as soon as I could. I craved that connection with someone at the level of trust that I saw between the two of them.

After a few try-out lessons I joined the studio. You couldn’t get me off the floor. My mood was improving, my nightmares were going away and my need to start living my life again came back. It went so well that I didn’t need therapy anymore.

I was still on anti-depressants and had to see the doctor once a month for those, but they were now discussing taking me off the meds permanently. The real downer was that when I moved back to South Africa it meant I had to leave the studio, and finding a new studio was turning out to be more challenging than expected.

I basically tried out every studio I could find, but not one of them evoked the feelings in me like the studio in Ireland.The other bad thing with me not finding the right outlet was that I was back in therapy and back on my medication. Or, more to the point, I was supposed to be back on my meds.

The stress from school, Dr. Trammel pushing me to go to my brother and father’s graves and trying to get me to talk to my mom, even if it was only so I could tell her I was back in town, along with not being able to find a dance studio and stopping my meds, was causing me to spiral out of control again.

My appearance dropped back to my old look, my little garden cottage that I bought looked more and more like a war zone, and I was climbing back into my shell and disappearing into the background a little more each day. Not that Kimberly minded me looking like my ‘old’ self again. She was motivated to get Brandon back once more, and mademy life a living hell with each and every chance she got. That really didn’t help matters at all.

With Kimberly finally figuring out who I really was, she had been out to get me ever since. Something to do with the fact that I made a fool of her bynot letting her know who I was that first day when she came to talk to me.

So I once again became the target of her hatred towards people.To make matters worse, I was tutoring Brandon and she didn’t like that one bit. The old nicknames were surfacing, withsome new ones added. The kids, especially Kimberly, were creative with names. My new nickname, ‘Orphan’, was of course related to the state my family life was in.

With the stress from school my nightmares returned, and the little one-bedroom garden cottage was starting to get very lonely at night. I got very little, or no, sleep. I was living off coffee and energy drinks and spending all my free time either at school or at Brandon’s house.

Brandon and I were becoming really great friends and my feelings for him were intensifying. Every touch, every smile, every eye lock between us was imprinted on my brain like a tattoo. I could tell you every detail about him if given half a chance. But I just couldn’t get myself to open up to him. Once or twice he asked about my family, and I would either change the subject or snap at him and storm off. In the end he also avoided that topic completely.

We weren’t really hanging out except when I was tutoring him, and I got the feeling that he didn’t really want other people to know we were becoming good friends. In one of my counseling sessions I mentioned this to Dr. Trammel.Hetold me it was because I didn’t open up to him about who I really was, and only showed him the mask I wore in public.

The thing is, if I let him in completely he would run away so fast that his own parents wouldn’t even be able to find him. I saw what happened three years ago: how he, and others, treated me.

Brandon didn’t want to know my past or me; he only wanted to pass maths. So I made sure that he would. With the tutoring I would have more chances to spend time with him and daydream about the perfect life together that I knew would never happen.

As the school year went along, the Matric Farewell was getting closer and the girls were starting to discuss possible dates and dresses every chance they got. If my confidence level had been the same as it was when this year started, I most certainly would have secured a date for myself. But with my appearance sliding again, my anger flaring up at every chance, and Kimberly’s new-found – or should I rather say old-found – hatred for me, no boys were coming close to asking me, never mind talking to me.

The upside of this was that Danny was finally leaving me alone.

The only person who asked me about it was Brandon’s mother. One afternoon I was daydreaming about Brandon and I when Mrs. Gillen, arriving with snacks, broke into my thoughts and dropped the Matric Farewell bomb on Brandon and I.

“So Samantha, who is your date forthe dance in October?” she asked casually. “Brandon was considering going alone, but maybe you two should go together!” She looked very pleased with herself.

Brandon sprayed all the juice he was drinking over my books. Spluttering and coughing, trying to get his breath back, there was alook of panic on his face atthe thought of me actually agreeing with his mom.

It was clear as day that he didn’t want to be seen with me in public, never mind at the school dance with me as his date. My heart broke a little at the expression on his face, but I swallowedmy hurt and tears and let him off the hook.

With that my last piece of heaven slipped away as well.

“Um, no Mrs. Gillen, I will not be going to the dance at all. If Brandon wants to go alone I’m sure he has a good reason for it.” I imagined his reasons were the hurt Kimberly caused him, as well as not wanting to be seen with me in public. Not wishing the conversation to continue, I made a big show of looking at my watch. “Oh, look at the time! I need to get going. Brandon, I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

I grabbed my stuff and was heading towards the door when a picture I hadn’t seen before stopped me in my tracks. Tears sprang to my eyes as I picked it up. I just kept staring at the picture, not able to look away. They looked so happy and so in love, with no drama and no hatred. The tears ran down my face before could stop them.

Turning to Mrs. Gillen, I asked with a lump in my throat and a thick voice, “Where was this picture taken? They look so happy here! My parents never said they knew you guys.” In the picture my mom and dad, and Brandon’s mom and dad were standing next to each other. In the background were two strollers, one pink and one blue. This photograph must have been taken not long after we were born.

Mrs. Gillen, after glaring at Brandon, walked over to me and took the picture out of my hands. I could see she was allowing the memory of the day to flow over her and she also had tears in her eyes.

“Your dad and I used to date when we were in high school. Brandon’s dad was his best friend and your mom was mine. Your dad and I set them up on a blind date one evening, thinking how cool it wouldbe if we all fell in love and got married, and then lived next door to each other, with our kids eventually falling in love with one another. I know, the craziness of a high school girl’s dreams.

“Anyway, your mom and Mr. Gillen dated a while, but then your dad’s eyes started wandering over to your mother. Your dad tried to avoid your mom at all costs, and your mom actually also tried to steer clear of him, but one night we were all going out clubbing together when I came down with a bad stomach bug in the afternoon. I decided to stay home but told your dad to go with them and have fun, as I just wanted to be left alone.

“He argued with me about it, but in the end I won and he agreed to go out with them. Needless to say, we were young and the alcohol was flowing, and when Mr. Gillen came back from the bar where he was fetching them all a round of drinks, he found your mom and dad going at it in one of the booths.”

She could see the complete shock on both Brandon’s face and mine. But she continued telling the story.

“Obviously we all broke up after that and your parents got together for real. Brandon’s dad was a good friend of mine by then and we consoled each other. For a long time we didn’t speak to your parents, being angry with the situation. They got married not long after that and a year later they were expecting their first child – you.

“Brandon’s dad and I were each in a bad place at the time of the news breaking about them getting married and then the pregnancy, and we ended up drinking one night at his place. One thing led to another, and a few months later I found out I was pregnant with Brandon. But by then it didn’t matter aswe were dating in any case, so we decided to wait until after he was born and then we would get married.”

“WHAT?” Brandon gave an incredulous cry. “I was the result of one drunken night of crying and drinking because her parents were happy and had moved on but you guys couldn’t!” The hurt and betrayal on his face nearly had me bursting into tears again. The lump in my throat was growing and my control overkeeping the tears at bay was getting harder and harder as Mrs. Gillen kept telling the story.

So my dad did it more than once. He broke more than one girl’s heart by cheating on her. I looked away from Brandon and back to the picture. I still wanted to know about it, and even though I really didn’t want to hear the rest of the story, I still needed to knowthe details.

“It still doesn’t explain the picture. If you hated each other why are you posing together for a picture? Why is the picture in your house for the world to see?” I asked Mrs. Gillen.

“A few months after Brandon was born, your mom called me to apologise. We all went out for dinner that night and decided to put everything behind us. We were never going to be the best of friends again but at least the anger between us had disappeared. I asked the waiter to take this picture as a good memory, to close off a bad part of our past and to celebrate our new futures together. When the accident happened with your family I dug out the picture and just couldn’t put it back in the box.

It stood in my dressing room for many years and I wanted to show it to you, so I brought it downstairs today and placed it here, but I forgot about it until you noticed it now.

“Your mom and I loved to dance. That is where the two of us met: at the dance studio. We were ten years old, we bumped into each other and we were friends from that day on. After you were born she stopped dancing altogether. I sometimes go back to our old studio just to be swung around the dance floor one more time, as Brandon’s dad has two left feet.” She said the last part with a sad smile on her face and laughter in her eyes. You could see all bad feelings had been forgotten for her.

I snapped out of my daydream when a chair crashed down on the floor. “How can you stand there and not be out of your mind with anger towards her mom and dad? I cannot believe you right now, mom. If I were you guys I would have never forgiven them or their family!” Atthe last part he looked directly at me and then turned and stormed out of the room.

“Brandon, wait!” his mom called after him. By then the lump in my throat was so big that I couldn’t hold it in anymore. A big sob escaped, and tears began to run down my cheeks. My parents were wrecking another family, even with one of them in the grave. Shame for them and what they had done flooded through me.

Glancing at Mrs. Gillen and then in the direction Brandon had fled, I shook my head, dropped the picture on the ground and escaped from their house, all the while repeating ‘I’m sorry!’ over and over again until I was safely in my car and on the road.

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